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St. Margaret's football rallies around 'WE' mentality
The OCVarsity Blitz crew was at St. Margaret's on Tuesday. ...
SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO - St. Margaret’s football coach Stephen Barbee wears a shirt to practice with one word - “WE” - on it. It is meant to symbolize the family atmosphere the football program shares with the rest of the school's campus.
“WE” is a mantra that Barbee brought with him from his time coaching at Marin Catholic High, where he helped the Wildcats win a CIF North Coast Section championship.
“I knew whenever I got a program, that was going to be my focal point,” Barbee said. “It’s so much more than the team, it’s a school and family thing.”
St. Margaret’s is a private school that has students that span preschool through 12th grade. Since Barbee has coached the Tartans, the football players hold doors open for kindergarteners and they join the elementary students in recess.
Receiver Auston Locke, who was first-team All-Academy League in 2015, has attended St. Margaret's since preschool. He grew up attending Tartans football games.
“I got to watch the games growing up, and now it’s time for me to give back to these people," Locke said. "That was me in the stands at one time, and now I want to be a good role model and someone they can look up to.
There is a strong sense of school pride within the Tartan football program.
“We are a small school with around 40 kids in the entire football program," Barbee said. "It is us against the world. We are going to put our 11 against your 11.”
St. Margaret's starting quarterback, senior George Krantz, threw for 43 touchdowns and was an All-CIF selection last season, but he isn't the only Krantz expected to play a significant role in the offense this season.
Also returning is Nick Krantz, who led the Tartans in rushing last year (538 yards), and Chris Krantz.
“There is almost a telepathy with us triplets. It’s a lot of fun playing with them everyday,” George said.
“It is a really unique experience playing with both of them. There is a connection we have that other players don’t have,” Nick said.
Last season, the Krantz brothers were instrumental parts of the Tartans offense, which averaged 442 yards per game. George threw for 3,165 yards to go with his 43 touchdowns.
A LOT OF LEADERS
The Tartans relied a lot last season on receiver Nick Shanks, who was co-offensive MVP of the Academy League, but with Locke returning and Ryan Cragun returning from an ankle injury, Barbee doesn't think the offense will miss a beat.
“We have about six guys on offense that can take that leadership role at any time," Barbee said. "We have a host of receivers who I feel could start on any team in Orange County."
“I’m excited to play with these guys," George Krantz said. "Getting Cragun back is huge, and we have some new talented transfers too.”
One of the advantages of playing at a small private school is getting the opportunity to play early in your high school career.
One of the most experienced players in Orange County is Tartans linebacker Nick Ahmoukhteh. He has started 42 games in his high school career, dating back to his freshman year.
“I have played in big games and I know what to do and what to look for now,” Ahmoukhteh said.
The Tartans depth chart is full of players who have started multiple years.
“We have great leadership from the older guys and young guys who have played serious minutes," Barbee said. "The better players here grow up quick. It’s not uncommon to have guys start as freshmen.”
THE AT-LARGE LIFE
With Sage Hill becoming an 8-man football program, the Academy League became disbanded for football this season.
St. Margaret’s along with Brethren Christian and Crean Lutheran will play as freelance teams and will have to apply for an at-large playoff spot to play in the postseason.
That's not the only significant change the Tartans are dealing with.
The Tartans will be in Division 7, which includes Huntington Beach, Tustin and Canyon, if they make the playoffs. By being moved up to Division 7, they will be in a tougher playoff bracket than their former Academy League competition.
“We want to play the best teams out there," Barbee said. "We feel we can compete with anybody. There are a lot of great teams in that bracket, but we are a great team and I like our chances.”
The players have embraced the challenge of playing against schools with more students and bigger programs.
“We have made it a goal to move up all throughout high school," Locke said. "Now we finally get our opportunity and this has been our most productive summer. We are ready to play with these teams.”